Theoretical and computational
ecology laboratory

3rd ΣPhD Ecological Symposium

The symposium aims to be a regular retreat for PhD students in any ecological discipline. The symposium provides a great opportunity for PhD students to share and receive valuable feedback, on both their ecological work and presentation skills. The symposium will also be a space to network and socialize with other students and seniors.

A panel of three prominent ecologists will evaluate oral presentations in a relaxed and constructive atmosphere. These researchers will also give a plenary talk during the symposium. We are happy to announce Pablo Almaraz (ICMAN-CSIC), Mar Cabeza (Helsinki University) and Jordi Martinez-Vilalta (CREAF-UAB) as the evaluators and keynote speakers for this third edition.

A scientific committee will select a maximum of 12 oral presentations.

Registration is free. All students and seniors should register to attend the symposium. CEAB will offer catering during coffee breaks and lunch, so it is important to know the number of attendants for optimal logistics.

Important dates

  • 15 March: Start of abstract submission / Start of registration
  • 15 June: Deadline for abstract submission / Deadline for Registration
  • 30 July: Notification of presentation selection
  • 26-27 September: The ΣPhD symposium

Details of the symposium


Please send your name, position (student or senior) and affiliation to, as well as your intention to give an oral presentation (only for PhD students, see below). Confirm also whether you will attend the first day of the meeting, when lunch will be offered to all attendants. Remember that deadline for registration is June 15th. If you register and later on you have some reason not to attend, please let us know.

Abstract submissions

Only students that have not yet submitted their PhD thesis or who have done it over the present 2024 can participate. Please send your abstract to (preferable pdf files). Do not forget to include a title, your name and affiliation and a summary of no more than 350 words. Please also include in which year your PhD thesis is actually running. Remember that deadline for abstract submission is June 15th. The scientific committee will select 12 abstracts for presentations.

Keep in mind that the symposium (oral presentations, questions and plenary talks) will run in English.

Oral presentations

Presentations will last 15 minutes + 10 minutes for questions and advice for improving your presentations from the evaluators. We ask you to stick on time because timing will be a criterion to evaluate your presentation! Other criteria will be:

  • Organization of the talk and aim of the study
  • Scientific contents, particularly conceptual background and conclusions
  • Voice and body language
  • Visual aids, especially large readable and brief text, clear graphs, good balance between text and images.


The symposium will take place in Blanes. Details about how to get CEAB are at:


Blanes has many hotels at different prices; however for those with a lower budget and to encourage student’s interactions, the CEAB also offers free accommodation at some researcher’s and students homes. Those interested, write an email to

Scientific committee

Daniel Oro, Meritxell Genovart, Frederic Bartumeus and Jolle Jolles.

Organising Committee

Daniel Oro

Support Organization

Marta Mora and Carol Castaño

Plenary Talks

  • Jordi Martinez-Vilalta (CREAF-UAB)

Are functional traits helpful for predicting the response of ecosystems to environmental changes?

Functional traits offer a promising avenue for predicting the vulnerability of ecosystems to environmental change. However, the predictive power of these traits has so far been relatively low, in part because trait effects depend on scale and ecological context. Functional traits interact in complex ways with each other (e.g., compensating) and with the environment (e.g., adjusting to exposure to a particular stressor). In this talk, I will address these issues using vegetation responses to drought as a backbone example, and propose ways to address them by emphasizing the coordination between traits in a hierarchical context, their variability in space and time, and the effect of biotic interactions. Finally, I will discuss some possible limitations of the reductionist approach based on functional traits from a more philosophical perspective. 

  • Pablo Almaraz (ICMAN-CSIC)

Everything is moving: forecasting the robust transient dynamics of nonautonomous ecosystems

Every biologist with minimal observational skills realizes a profound invariant principle in nature: fluctuations are of the essence to sustain life. But we are equipped with a lingering metaphysical, pre-scientific assumption: nature seeks balance. It is thus no wonder that virtually all our scientific constructs, particularly the mathematical ones, seek balance as we assume nature does. The asymptotic return to a stable equilibrium of a perturbed system is just a rather sophisticated picture of the ‘balance of nature’ metaphor. It is becoming increasingly evident that this metaphor, full of asymptotics and stable equilibria, does not work, and has never really worked. Here, I introduce the application of the mathematical theory of nonautonomous dynamical systems and informational structures to biological problems. This strategy begins with a simple, yet powerful assumption: everything is moving. I apply a class of nonautonomous models with straightforward ecological applications, namely skew-product flows, to an empirical example of a competitive three-species chaotic system in which demographic rates are controlled by environmental fluctuations.

Despite the chaotic nature of the modelled system, the medium-range forecasting abilities of this new approach surpass the predictability of empirical dynamical approaches based on Takens’s theorem. A new mathematical object arises in this setting: the nonautonomous transitor, a time-ordered collection of global attractors. A global attractor is built up by a detailed geometrical structure containing all the equilibrium of a dynamical system, whether stable (asymptotic) or unstable (transient), and their connections in the state space. In a nonautonomous system, these global attractors themselves flow in time.

Critically, the predictability within the nonautonomous flow is driven nearly always by the transient, unstable equilibrium. While the flow is permanently transient, it is thus robust: the system is permanent. I show that, when equipped with an empirical probability distribution, the nonautonomous transitor effectively encapsulates all the history of an ecosystem: the potential and realized community assembly paths, all the invasion and extinction events, and the full collection of transient and asymptotic equilibrium approached by the system across time. It is both an explanatory and predictive object: it is an informational structure in which everything is moving. I argue that it is our duty as scientists to capture this movement, scrutinize its structure, and enrich the understanding and predictability of nature in an ever-shifting world.

Programme flow 

The complete program of the symposium is not yet available.